Dinwoody Creek, 1st descent
All Photos by Brian Fletcher.
AKA: Why Dinwoody Creek is not in the New testament
This story is a couple of years old, but I don’t think the story has ever been told. Figured some may enjoy it.
The Wind River Mountains contains the largest collection of sheer granite walls in the country outside of the Sierra's. It is 50% wilderness and 50% Wind River Indian Reservation. All of the rivers with water and gradient flow off the east side of the mountains, through the reservation. Bull lake creek had been discovered on the reservation the year before. It was declared an instant classic and worth every step of a 12 mile hike. The brochure I was fed basically said “A slice of California clean granite waterfalls and slides in Wyoming”.
Well the next summer I get a call from Willie, “Dinwoody mish is happening”, “E-Ro has it dialed”. “Cool, I’m in” and next thing I know I’m testing out my backpack system in the living room. My system is pretty marginal and Brad sees me struggling and offers up his brand new system. “I’ll take good care of it” I say, even though we both silently acknowledge that the thing is never gonna be the same.
Dinwoody Creek Drains Dinwoody Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the US outside Alaska. The glacier sits on the backside of Gannett Peak, the highest point in Wyoming. It is the bigger brother of Bull lake, it is the largest creek off the east side of the Winds. On google earth there are lots of bare granite rocks and the creek is very white in the pictures. It was bound to be the next classic.
2 AM the morning of departure, we have driven all night and are searching for where Dinwoody crossed the road in the reservation. We keep driving back and forth across Bull Lake, all I remember is hearing “Hey, there is Bull lake again”. We find a pullout on the side of the road and crash. 6:30 AM, we awake and found the other half of the crew has arrived as well. Myself, E-RO, Willie and Fletcher and we quickly divide up the weight, which seems quite heavy. We had already purchased the fishing stamp, the conservation liscense and whatever else the res was selling that may make us seem more legit. Apparently kayaking is illegal in the reservation and E-Ro advised we buy all these licenses and stamps and such so we at least have something to show them if it gets thick.
We hire an old leathery tribal lady to drive us the first 6 or 8 miles on a road that only tribal members can drive. She did’nt really say why only tribal members could drive it, but that was just how it was. It’s not much of a road, more a doubletrack. We climb up and up in the loaded truck. All around us is granite. We see all sorts of big slides and waterfalls on the far off creek, a small tributary of the Dinwoody. We must gain over 1,000 ft in vert. Our story, which we tell the driver, is that we are going to hike up and over the mountains, right at Gannett Peak and kayak down the west side, off the reservation, where it is legal to do so. She is friendly and does’nt hear what we are saying because she is excited about who she is picking up.
She informs us that when she drops us off she will be picking up Matthew Fox from the TV show Lost. Appaprently a big Hollywood star who grew up right there in the town of 500 people on the Wind River reservation. None of us have really heard of him, but she makes it clear he is a big star. As well as a full blood tribal member.
We unload where the road fades out at a stand of aspens. We load the boats and I put the boat on my back. All I can do is laugh at the ridiculous weight. 5 days of supplies packed inside. I don’t know the actual weight but it was damn heavy. Everyone finished up their jury rigging jobs, guidance straps and calf clearances. We got all set, paid the old Indian lady and set off. After about 1/16th of a mile, here comes Matthew fox and friend. Matthew is cool, says hi and passes by. His friend gets more inquisitive. He asks our plan and we repeat the BS story of hiking over Ganett Peak and kayaking on the West side. He does’nt believe us and becomes agitated. The conversation escalates and E-Ro’s BS is’nt working. The guy gets quite angry at the whole scene and then spurts out to us as we walk away, “Go Fuck yourselves!”.
So for the next 5 days we pretty much did just that. 9 hours of hiking was in store that day. A serious elevation gain with serious weight. We powered through for 9 hours of full bore work. It helped that you could’nt stop or the mosquito’s would descend and your legs would be thick with them in seconds. We arrived at the base of the glacier right at sunset. It was one of the more beautiful sights I have seen. Granite Peak piercing the sky and the massive pastel glacier sliding down its side. Right at the base of the glacier Dinwoody Creek spilled forth. We were there right in that spot. At the base of this amazing glacier with large mountain peaks all around and the next classic first descent right at our feet. Spirits were high but we were asleep quickly from the grueling hike.
In the morning we packed up the last items of camp, stowed the coffee maker in the boat and pushed off into the milky glacier water. It was truly a gorgeous day. We rounded the first bend of the river and there was a small horizon line. We boat scouted to the edge and it was a nice low angle granite slide. “Holy Shit” I thought to myself, “we have discovered another classic”.
Put in at the base of Dinwoody Glacier
A few read and run rapids, some quick scouts and an hour or 2 later we come to another horizon line. It’s a 100 foot cascading waterfall into a shallow pool. We begin what looks like a fairly easy portage. Slowly we get deeper and deeper trying to portage and are bashing though the forest. We have now all split up and are bashing solo going for whatever window you see. Occasionally tossing your rope down to your buddy to haul his boat up. 4 hours later we are back at the river. We paddle down a few more rapids and camp.
The nest day is another glorious blue sky day. We paddle through a morning of stiff boulder rapids. Scouting for the next eddy you can see and then powering to make it. Eddy by tenuous eddy we made our way down the fairly complex river, avoiding logs and mank. The rapids are powerful and continuous but manageable.
We eddy hop down to where it is obvious we are getting boxed into a gorge. 2 people want to go one more eddy, 2 want to scout. The 2 hop out for a scout and declare it a massive portage. We climb up out to the rim of the gorge a couple hundred feet up and look down in. 5 back to back 40-60 foot waterfalls crashing into rock. If we had gone one more eddy, it would have required some ascending to get back up.
We rope the boats up and start a lowering series to climb down below this cascade. It takes a couple of stages of lowering , down-climbing and a sketchy seal launch to get to the bottom of the falls and into the gorge. By the time we get down it is getting pretty late in the day. We are on the move though. I was the first one back into the water. From above we could see another horizon line downstream but could not tell what it was. I paddle the 100 yards across the pool and catch an eddy right at the lip of the next horizon line. I look out over it and see just sky and the tops of trees. I hop out of my boat and it is the biggest waterfall yet. It seems well over 200 feet tall. We decide to wait to portage this beast in the morning and find a gorgeous beach at the base of the first waterfall. Around us the gorge is tight and there is just the series of waterfalls in front of us, the 100 yard pool and then the 200 foot waterfall. A truly magical place. Fletcher decides he is going to fish with his Big Gulp cup with fishing string tied around it and a lure on the end. Although fish sounds really good to our starving selves, we all laugh at the thought of there being fish in between 2 massive waterfalls. “You think there’s fish in here?” 1st cast he swears a fish chased it. We laugh, not really believing him. 2nd cast he’s hooked into a lunker. He fights it with the big Gulp cup. Yanking it over his head then spinning the Big Gulp cup to take up line. When he gets it to the shore, it’s a 22” brook trout. The rest of us are so stoked we start straight howling and dancing on the beach. 3rd cast he hooks another 18” trout. We feasted on the fish and freeze dried noodles that night and not a scrap of food was left.
The 200 footer proved surprisingly easy to portage in the morning. It was actually a leisurely stroll on the side of the river as it cascaded down 200 feet. We knew this day we would hit the really big waterfall that was obvious on Google Earth. The day was filled with more almost-runnables. Slides that started clean and then hit rocks, or nice waterfalls that landed on rocks. E-Ro had the big waterfall dialed and we were able to tell when we approached it We had pre-mapped our portage on the aerials so we hopped out and began another 4 hour sufferfest portage, our third 4 hour portage so far. At least this one we were prepared for.
We were thinking the final day may be where it all gets good. The day where it all cleans up. Dinwoody had different ideas. We first came to a series of 5 big drops in a gorge that was super close to being runnable. Just not quite there. So it pained us to portage and was sort of the point we lost hope in Dinwoody. I think on this 5th day our spirits were a little sapped by this fantastic gorge that just did’nt go. We wanted to finish up, call it good and head home. Dinwoody had different ideas. The river started to ease a little. We found a bigger stout drop that we were all able to run. We probably would have portaged it on a normal day but were so sick and tired of walking stuff that we had to fire it up.
The river continued with interspersed read and run rapids and some scouting. We ended up eddying out above a large logjam towards the late afternoon. It was an obvious portage and we hopped out and began walking. We walked and walked, but this log jam went on forever. In some kind of twisted last trick on us it turned into a ½ mile log jam. One half mile of river filled with logs. At the end of the logjam, the river just disappeared. It just went from a log jammed river to nothing. Just dirt, rock and sagebrush. We did’nt even know which way to walk now. I began going one direction and the others went the other way. We laughed to ourselves she’s not gonna stop us. Even if she takes the river away, we are going to keep going and finish this damn river. Willie eventually found where the river came back.
In the middle of a flat valley of sagebrush, the water boiled up in a walled ampitheater 200 feet wide with 30 foot vertical walls all around. The water was a deep emerald and it was very beautiful in the emerald cauldron. We saw a horizon line downstream with a huge tree stuck in it. How the hell a tree got down in there I will never know. There were 500 trees stuck upstream before it went underground. And just this one huge one down here. I walked up and tiredly proclaimed there was an eddy above it on the left. We rappelled one at a time down into the cauldron and explored the cave where the water boiled up. Fletcher paddled down and at the last second realized the river left eddy I spoke of had current through it flowing right into the log and he bailed for the river right eddy where there was no portage. He caught everyone one by one in the eddy. We then had to wade back up the river right to get to where we could paddle across to the left and catch a tiny eddy and then catch each-other one by one. The portage was then clinging to a crumbly cliff face looking down on sure death if you slipped. We felt as if the door HAD hit our ass on the way out. We eventually paddled onto the small lake at the bottom as dusk fell. We hugged in the parking lot at having made it and soaked in the beauty of the place once again. Dinwoody gave me 5 days in an amazing place, a hell of a workout and a good humbling.